I honestly have no idea how my parents allowed me to have the childhood I had and not pass away from excess worry.
As the parent now, I feel my stomach tie itself in knots each time one of my children leaves the house. Even when my youngest child (and only daughter) simply walks a few blocks to visit her friends, I have to suppress the alarming urge to chaperone her.
So if I feel that way with my daughter walking around the neighborhood, there is no way my nervous system could handle her riding her bicycle ten blocks and across two major streets to attend her elementary school. Yet, this is exactly what my parents allowed me to do.
And lest you think I am being overly protective because the child in question is a female, I will assure you that I would be wracked with worry if I allowed my high school son to ride his bicycle 1.5 miles and over 4-6 major roads to attend his classes. Yet, my parents allowed me to pedal this distance every Monday through Friday during the school year.
If my parents ever did worry, they never let me know. I can reassure them that every trip I took on my bicycle between our home and my high school was uneventful.
This is that story.
The sun is not yet up.
The sky to the east is turning pale in anticipation of the sun peeking out over the mountains. The western sky is still shrouded in nightly black.
It’s fall in Southern California and there is a chill in the air. To say that there is a chill is in the air is relative. A “chill” in this part of the country means one can see their breath. So, there is a chill in the air.
The streetlights are still glowing orange. Some of the stoplights are still blinking yellow.
Keeping company with the few cars that are on the street, I am pedalling a blue ten-speed Schwinn bicycle on the asphalt of my hometown in Orange County.
In my sophomore year of high school, this is my morning routine to be out on the road so early because I attend “Zero Period”, the time when my high school soccer team practices before school rather than after class. As I recall, it has something to do with county (state?) rules about when athletes can practice before their season actually starts. Regardless of the why, the when is 0-dark-hundred.
I am riding, dressed in my soccer gear, with my academic necessities in my backpack and my regular clothes in a duffel bag balanced on the handlebars.
I have made the right hand turn out of my driveway and made the second right down a major road that will take me three-fifths of the way to my destination. While down this major road, I see a police cruiser parked on the opposite side of the street. As I do not have my driver’s license at this moment and have no practical experience driving, I do not slow down or alter my routine the moment I see Smokey (unlike now after three decades of driving under my belt).
The police car is out of my thoughts the moment I pass it so I don’t even notice when the cruiser takes off from its parking spot. I am so focused on keeping my duffel bag balanced as I make a sweeping left turn onto another main road, that I fail to notice the police car coming up behind me. It is only when the police car pulls up beside me and flashes its lights that I realize that the officer inside the car is motioning for me to pull over.
I am trying to think if perhaps I had made an illegal left turn or if the turn was somehow unsafe, when the police officer comes up to me and asks me for my identification. He is a pleasant enough fellow and he asks in a nice manner. I open my duffel bag to try and find my wallet in my pants as I ask the officer if a student ID will suffice. He says it will and he takes my ID and troops back to his car.
I hum to myself and wait for the officer to do whatever it is that officers of the peace do back in their cruisers with other people’s forms of identification. I am also trying to figure out how I will explain to this my soccer coach who does not tolerate lateness.
The officer comes back and hands me back my ID saying I can be on my way. I ask him why I was stopped because I would like to ensure that I do not repeat whatever action it was (i.e., unsafe turn, speeding, attempting a wheelie while balancing a duffel bag) that attracted his attention.
He tells me that there is an APB out for a runaway teen. The description for this individual is a male, short, light blond hair, slender build, and last seen on a blue ten-speed. That description was a fairly good spitting image of me. So, obviously, when the officer saw me pedalling my trusty Schwinn steed, he thought he had found the wayward boy.
I was sorry to disappoint him and I wished him luck finding his runaway.
We both continued on our morning journeys as the sun came up, the streetlights blinked out, and somewhere a parent was worried to death.
That’s my story.
P.S. You already know about this brush with authority, but as for the other three times I have been stopped by law enforcement while operating a moving vehicle….well, those are stories for another day.